As the conflict in Yemen enters its sixth year, civilians continue to bear the brunt of international inaction.
Amidst an ongoing global pandemic, 2020 was an even worse year for the people of Yemen.
A report by the independent Yemeni monitoring group, Mwatana, has found that airstrikes alone by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 99 civilians in 2020, including 41 children and 15 women.
Over the course of 2020, the report found that the ongoing conflict had killed 900 civilians. The deaths included those committed by the Houthis and the Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition.
Civilians, the report noted, were also killed by the forces of the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and armed groups loyal to it, a separate outfit backed by the UAE known as Southern Transitional Council. Saudi ground forces were also held responsible for civilian deaths.
According to the UN, since the Saudi-UAE coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, with Western backing, more than 233,000 civilians have been killed, many due to indirect causes such as famine and disease arising from the war.
The Saudi-UAE coalition claims it’s attempting to root out the Houthis, a group that is backed by Iran. Over the course of the half-decade conflict, the coalition has run thousands of airstrikes in Yemen, which has resulted in indiscriminate killing, sparking an international outcry.
The Yemeni monitoring group Mwatana said in its report that “the warring parties continued their wider assault on human rights in Yemen, with civilians killed, wounded, arbitrarily detained, disappeared and tortured. The warring parties also obstructed humanitarian aid, recruited and used children, occupied schools and hospitals, and attacked healthcare and humanitarian workers.”
It went on to urge the international community to pressure all sides to bring the conflict to an end.
The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has urged the international community to ensure that in 2021 the conflict is brought to an end.
Particular attention will be paid to what the incoming Joe Biden administration will do. When the conflict started in 2015, the then vice president Biden was part of the Obama administration.
During the eight-year Obama presidency, more than $115 billion worth of arms were sold to the Saudis. Even as the reports of human rights violations emerged the Obama presidency remained largely uninterested in reigning in its biggest weapons customer.
Under the Trump presidency, Saudi Arabia and the UAE felt even less compelled to reduce the intensity of the conflict. The Trump administration, like its predecessor, sold more than $100 billion worth of weapons to the Saudis.
Even as Trump nears the end of his presidency, the administration is seeking to pass through one final half a billion dollars weapons sales deal to Saudi Arabia.
Biden has promised that he will reassess America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and in particular, the ruling Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MBS), who has personally led the failed war in Yemen.
While Saudi policies pursued by MBS have drawn the most international scrutiny, the role of the UAE has comparatively gone under the radar. Although the UAE military withdrew from Yemen in early 2020, it still retains power and influence through its proxies, which have only further stoked the conflict.
If the Biden administration hopes to bring about a resolution to the conflict in Yemen he will need to tackle the UAE publicly as he has MBS.
The UAE’s recent controversial deal with Israel to normalise relations was welcomed by Biden as a “welcome, brave, and a badly needed act of statesmanship.”
A recent study found that the UAE has been involved in the affairs of Yemen since 2011 in a bid to carve out influence in the country. Far from being a junior partner, it was an active participant in the war effort.
Biden’s pledge to restore humanitarian aid to the Houthi held areas will be tested in tandem with the UAE’s contradictory objective of attempting to weaken those areas by withholding aid.